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Photograph: Calvin Sit

Unconventional buildings and unusual places in Hong Kong

Get to know these rarely discussed places in town

Written by
Time Out Hong Kong

There are plenty of interesting buildings and places around the city. Some are beautiful and infinitely Instagrammable – no doubt they’ve made their way onto your Instagram feed at some point – while others are historical relics of a rapidly fading Hong Kong of yore. But it’s mostly the same usual suspects who repeatedly receive the most attention – the Monster BuildingIFC, Tai Kwun you know the lot. And don’t even get us started with Choi Hung estate. Bucking the trend, here are some rarely discussed buildings and spots that are aesthetically interesting, of historical note, or even just plain weird. By Ethan Lam

RECOMMENDED: Looking for more quirky things about Hong Kong? Read more about these weirdly named places in Hong Kong.

Unconventional buildings and places in Hong Kong

  • Attractions
  • Shenzhen

Perhaps the most far-flung minor island in Hong Kong, Tung Ping Chau is closer to the mainland than it is to Hong Kong – a trait that made it a destination for Chinese refugees in the 50s and 60s. Visitors can literally see Shenzhen in the distance from the shore, and some mobile phones can even pick up on faint cellular network signals from the mainland.

Over 2,000 farmers and fishermen used to inhabit the island, but as time passed, many were lured away by job prospects in the city, and only 50 to 60 people live there full-time now. Some descendants of former residents return over the weekends or public holidays, operating restaurants and dormitories for visitors, who can explore abandoned houses of former residents, which have been rapidly reclaimed by nature, a Tin Hau temple, as well as a boarded-up colonial-era training camp.

  • Things to do
  • New Territories

Located in the backyard of the still-under-construction Queen’s Hill public housing estate in Fanling, Burma Lines (also formerly known as the Queen’s Hill Camp) is a disused former British army barrack. What sets Burma Lines apart from other colonial-era barracks is that the site contains a near-intact Hindu temple, which was where the camp’s Ghurkas went to worship.

Dedicated to Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction, the temple has been vacant ever since 1996, but obtained Grade III conservation status thanks to the efforts of heritage campaigners. It’s a visually striking building, arranged in a hexagonal structure with five entrances, resembling a lotus flower, a symbol of beauty and holiness in Hinduism. Although much of the paint outside is rotting away and losing its colour, the interior is in relatively good condition, with the walls being painted a handsome shade of deep blue and red.

  • Things to do
  • North Point

Look out the window while traversing the eastern corridor, and you might take notice of one particularly monolithic building passing you by – that would be Provident Center, a private residential estate in North Point built in 1984. There isn’t much that is historically significant about Provident Center itself, but its architectural style is interesting. That hulking, sea-facing facade is a reflection of the social conditions of the era it was built in when the government was under particularly high pressure to build new homes. Building codes were more lenient back then, and developers would push them to their limits, constructing buildings that were designed to accommodate as many residents as possible – hence the sheer length of that awe-inspiring facade. However, these sorts of buildings greatly restricted airflow and natural light from reaching the urban environments below them, leading the building codes to be rewritten in order to favour slimmer towers.

  • Property
  • Lantau Island
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A small private housing estate tucked away in the southern corner of Lantau; the Sea Ranch was originally a getaway for the city’s swankiest socialites. Promotional brochures from the time billed it as 'the exclusive resort club of Hong Kong', with spacious serviced apartment units, a massive private clubhouse, luxury restaurants, and most importantly, a sprawling, gorgeous beach out front. Sadly, the Sea Ranch eventually collapsed under the weight of its own ambitions and piled up a hefty $7 million debt just years after opening. This resulted in the holding company to be sold to its residents for a nominal $1. Shortly after, most residents ended up moving away, leaving a ghost town in their wake. 

However, there has actually been a surprising wave of renewed interest in Sea Ranch in recent years, with some recent figures indicating a 70 percent occupancy rate. It’s possible to book a short stay in a hostel there, but the grand prize is actually owning a unit, a thought not entirely outside the realm of possibility given the estate’s significantly cheaper housing prices. The trade-off? No broadband internet, shops of any kind, or even road access. Residents also have to structure their schedules around the private ferry to Cheung Chau, which is the only transportation link between Sea Ranch and the rest of Hong Kong.

While visiting Sea Ranch itself is trespassing – any attempt to take the private ferry will immediately result in a forced return trip, courtesy of the estate’s security guards – the beach is supposedly open to the public, and can be reached via a trek from Pui O or chartering a private sampan from Cheung Chau to nearby Tai Long Wan.

  • Attractions
  • Sai Wan Ho

Tai On Building in Shau Kei Wan is worth visiting for the food alone. It’s well known for housing an entire world of eateries, offering both exciting new fares such as loaded hot dogs and classic eats like egg waffles, scallion pancakes, and cart noodles.

But it’s architectural history is also significant. Much like Chungking Mansions, Tai On is a composite building, a building with very few restrictions on their internal use. People lived on the top floors and businesses occupied the ground floors, effectively creating self-sufficient worlds inside these buildings. For the same reasons as the aforementioned Provident Center, composite buildings eventually fell out of favour. And while composite buildings themselves aren’t all that rare in Hong Kong, not many are as lively or large as Tai On Building. It’s one of the few that truly feels like a completely new world once you step inside.

  • Things to do
  • Kwai Chung

Hong Kong was well known as a manufacturing hub even as recently as in the 80s, and while traces of that era aren’t exactly fading away rapidly – after all, popular areas like Wong Chuk Hang and Kwun Tong are full of modern industrial buildings – it’s a history that is still well worth preserving.

Chun Shing Factory Estate immediately stands out from the many generic industrial buildings that you might already be familiar with, sporting a colourful orange and purple paint job that catches the eye. It’s also unusual in that it has lengthy open-air corridors, making it look like a wider version of a traditional ‘old slab’ style public housing estate instead of a normal industrial building.

The estate is one of the very few 17 industrial buildings that is both government-built and owned. Most were either demolished or converted – the Jockey Club Creative Arts Centre is the most notable example – but Chun Shing is one of the six that remain in use. However, the housing authority has begun to assess the feasibility of converting the remaining factory estates into public housing, meaning that Chun Shing might not be around in its current state for much longer.

  • Things to do
  • Aberdeen

Unlike the State Theatre in North Point, which was more of a premium experience, Fortuna Theatre was more akin to a local neighbourhood joint. Built in 1979 to serve residents from nearby Wah Fu public housing estate, the theatre had a 1,274 seat auditorium complete with balcony and stall seating. However, it was eventually split into two auditoriums during the 90s.

Ever since it shut its doors in 2000, things have been complicated for Fortuna Theatre – it sporadically reopened for a few days every year until 2005, when it was rebranded as the Hong Kong Opera House. A local businessman reportedly had the idea to stage transgender shows there and bus in tourists to see them. One thing led to another, and the theatre fully ceased operations in 2008. With the impending redevelopment of Wah Fu, the future of Fortuna Theatre is now even more uncertain.

  • Things to do
  • Yuen Long

Step aside Sai Kung – Fairview Park is as close to true suburbia as one can get in Hong Kong. A large private residential estate built in 1976 out in Yuen Long, its residents live in neatly arranged low-rise houses – each one complete with front and backyards – that make the place seem a lot more like a quiet American suburb. Estate residents aren’t starved of facilities either, as Fairview Park has its own schools, a country club, various parks, restaurants, clinics, and even a dedicated sewage treatment plant. There’s also a 15,000 square meter large artificial lake that proudly sits in the town centre.

  • Things to do
  • Sai Kung

When ATV finally ceased their broadcasts on April 1, 2016, the city stopped for a brief moment of silence – and then promptly proceeded to instantly move on. There was no special programming to mark the occasion, no outpour of public support demanding that their broadcast license be renewed. It was a wholly uneventful affair because everybody had seen it coming. The 57-year-old broadcaster had been in decline for years – their news department took a severe blow to their credibility after falsely reporting the death of a Chinese official – their programming had grown increasingly asinine and uninspired. Near the end of its time, they had become publicly embroiled in controversies about unpaid wages.

Once served as a studio for ATV, this factory building in Ho Chung was abandoned in 2007 and quickly became popular amongst urban explorers and graffiti artists, who have covered every single inch of the building with their artwork. It actually had a brief moment in the spotlight in 2015 when the police uncovered a bomb-making scheme that operated out of the building, and security has been tightened up ever since. And as with any good abandoned building in HK, there are also rumours that it’s haunted.

This studio is one of the few physical things that we have left to remember ATV. The next time you’re on your way to Sai Kung, peer out the window – you might be able to catch a glimpse of this building, its rusting, sun-faded vintage logo serving as a reminder of Hong Kong’s golden age of television.

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